Former telecom minister A Raja, DMK MP Kanimozhi and all other accused were on Thursday acquitted in the politically-sensitive 2G spectrum allocation scam cases by a special court which held that the prosecution "miserably failed" to prove the charges.
The fifteen other accused allowed to walk free include former Telecom Secretary Siddharth Behura, Raja's erstwhile private secretary R K Chandolia, Swan Telecom promoters Shahid Usman Balwa and Vinod Goenka, Unitech Ltd MD Sanjay Chandra and three top executives of Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (RADAG) — Gautam Doshi, Surendra Pipara and Hari Nair.
Raja and Kanimozhi, daughter of DMK supremo M Karunanidhi, were also let off in another case lodged by the Enforcement Directorate under the money laundering law arising out of the 2G scam.
Special CBI Judge O P Saini, whose court came into being on 14 March, 2011 for hearing 2G cases exclusively, also acquitted Essar Group promoters Ravi Kant Ruia and Anshuman Ruia and six others in a separate case arising out of the 2G scam probe. Besides Ruias, Loop Telecom Promoters I P Khaitan and Kiran Khaitan and Vikash Saraf, one of the Essar Group Directors, Loop Telecom Ltd, Loop Mobile (India) Ltd and Essar Teleholdings Ltd were also acquitted.
In the packed courtroom, the judge said, "I have absolutely no hesitation in holding that prosecution has miserably failed to prove any of the charges against any of the accused."
How many cases were decided?
Three cases were decided by the special court, which had a total of 35 accused, including several companies.
The first case, prosecuted by the CBI, had 17 accused, while the second matter, pursued by the ED, had 19 accused. The third one had eight accused, including promoters of Essar.
Initially, the CBI lodged an FIR on 21 October, 2009 against unknown officers of DoT, unknown private persons and firms and others. Later the apex court took up the matter leading to the resignation of Raja and his subsequent arrest. Raja, Kanimozhi and 15 others were tried under provisions of the IPC and the Prevention of Corruption Act dealing with offences of criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery, using as genuine fake documents, abusing official position, criminal misconduct by public servant and taking bribe.
The second case was lodged by the ED with regard to alleged laundering of Rs 200 crore bribe money against Raja, Kanimozhi and 17 others. Besides Raja and Kanimozhi, DMK supremo M Karunanidhi's wife Dayalu Ammal and seven individuals and nine companies also faced trial in the money laundering case.
The trial in the third case, arising out of the 2G scam probe, was conducted against Essar promoters and six others. The CBI had named them in its charge sheet on 12 December, 2011, alleging they had cheated the Department of Telecommunication by using Loop Telecom as a "front" to secure 2G licences in 2008.
What did the judgment say?
The judgment minced no words as it attacked the CAG's and CBI's estimation of the huge loss in grant of 2G licences. It says that some people "artfully" arranged a few selected facts and created a scam "when there was none".
The CAG in its report — that created an uproar when the UPA was in power — had estimated that the 2G scam had caused an astronomical loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the state exchequer.
The CBI had alleged in its chargesheet that there was a loss of Rs 30,984 crore to the exchequer in allocation of licences for 2G spectrum. These licenses were scrapped by the Supreme Court on 2 February, 2012.
The court observed that due to various "actions and inactions" of the government officials concerned of the Department of Telecom (DoT), a huge scam was seen by everyone in the entire case.
"However, on account of the various actions and inactions of the officials, as noted above, nobody believed the version of DoT and a huge scam was seen by everyone where there was none. These factors compelled people to conjecture about a big scam," the court said in its 1,552-page verdict in the CBI's case involving Raja and others.
The special judge also said that policy decisions of the DoT were "scattered" in different official files and were thus, difficult to trace and understand. "These are only a few examples of how policy issues are strewn around here and there in a disorderly manner. Because of this, it becomes very difficult for outside agencies and institutions to understand issues in proper perspective, leaving scope for controversy," the court noted. It said that files in the DoT were opened and closed too quickly in an "haphazard manner" even for a small issue and there was no systematic way of dealing with issues in one file in a sequential manner at one place.
Saini said lack of clarity in policies and guidelines also added to the confusion and guidelines were framed in such technical language that the meaning of many terms was not clear even to the DoT officers. The court said when DoT officers themselves did not understand the departmental guidelines and their glossary, they could not blame companies and others for their violation.
"The worst thing is that despite knowing that the meaning of a particular term was ambiguous and may lead to problems, no steps were taken to rectify the situation. This continued year after year," it said.
What did the judgment say about the CBI's handling of the case?
The court expressed it displeasure at the CBI's prosecution of the case in the judgment as it said the quality of prosecution had "totally deteriorated" and by the end it became "directionless".
The court observed that the CBI had started its case with "great enthusiasm and ardour" but at the final stage of the trial, Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) Anand Grover and the regular CBI prosecutor moved in "two different directions without any coordination".
"In the beginning, the prosecution started with the case with great enthusiasm and ardour. However, as the case progressed, it became highly cautious and guarded in its attitude making it difficult to find out as to what prosecution wanted to prove," the court said.
It also took strong note of behaviour of CBI and its SPP saying several applications and replies were filed on their behalf but in the final phase of the trial, no senior officer or prosecutor was willing to sign these documents. The documents were ultimately signed by a an inspector of the agency, who was one of the junior-most officers posted in the court, the judge said.
The court further noted that when final arguments in the case started, SPP Grover had said he would file the written submissions but later, he started arguing the matter orally which went on for several months. "On conclusion of final arguments for the prosecution, he (SPP) did not file written arguments, but instead submitted that he would file it only when the defence would file its written arguments. That was highly unfair," it said.
"Many more things can be said but that would only add to the length of the order," the court said.
Does this mean that there was no scam?
Earlier, the Supreme Court had taken cognisance of the 2G scam, which is why it cancelled the allocation of 2nd generation waves (122 licenses) in February 2013 and asked the government to start the process anew.
What happens next?
The CBI has said it would file an appeal against the verdict. The agency, which normally takes months to "study" court orders before proceeding to file an appeal in higher court, declared within hours of the verdict that "it has been prima facie examined".
"The judgement relating to the 2G scam case has been prima facie examined and it appears that the evidence adduced to substantiate the charges by the prosecution has not been appreciated in its proper perspective by the learned court. The CBI will be taking necessary legal remedies in the matter," CBI spokesperson Abhishek Dayal said.
Asked whether an appeal would be filed in the Delhi High Court challenging the verdict, the spokesperson replied in the affirmative.
The ED has also decided to appeal against the judgment. ED officials said the agency would study the order and knock on the doors of the high court armed with their evidence and investigation. The officials said it has to be seen if the ED case has been rejected by the court merely because the predicate offence probe of the CBI has been rejected or there were other reasons to do so.
With inputs from PTI
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Updated Date: Dec 21, 2017 19:59:46 IST